First Spin... Faith No More's Sol Invictus
It's been nearly two decades since the release of Faith No More's last LP, 1997's modestly titled Album of the Year – a record that seemed like it would be their last when the band finally called it a day a year later, citing the band members' interest in pursuing other projects as one of the main reasons for the spilt.
Frontman Mike Patton has been one of the busiest in this department over the intervening years, appearing in several bands including The Dillinger Escape Plan and his long-running experimental project Mr. Bungle, as well as collecting a long list of production credits on records by artists from John Zorn to Kool Keith and launching his own label, Ipecac Recordings.
Even when the band reformed for some live dates in 2009, the prospect of new material seemed unlikely, depending on which member of the band you believed. Patton himself stated as recently January 2013 that this probably wouldn't happen, telling Believer magazine that the reunion had “sort of petered out”, but just a few months later bassist Billy Gould was sounding a little more optimistic, saying that a new album could happen at some point, but only when “all the members are focussed on that”, but adding that “this isn't the time... yet.”
By August last year though the band were firmly plotting album no. 7 and after some recording sessions at the back end of 2014 the band released their first new single for 18 years, 'Motherf*cker', as part of last year's Record Store Day event, followed by another single 'Superhero', earlier this year.
Next week (May 18th), Faith No More's long-awaited seventh album, Sol Invictus, will finally arrive on the shelves – so what can you expect from the band after a two-decade-long recording hiatus? We gave it a spin to find out...
The album's title track kicks us off with a gentle piano overture and a shuffling, military-style drum beat while Mike Patton almost whispers his lyrics: “I'm coming Lord, I'm on my way / Worshipping at the the altar of no-one / Can't remember which God is my one...”
The opening salvo builds steadily over its modest two-and-a-half minute runtime, sounding like the clarion call for an impending battle – and so it proves as the second track arrives.
Ok, now we're off. Built around a chugging, growling bassline, pounding drums and a wall of stuttering guitar riffs, the second single from the new album – which fans of their recent live sets have come to know as 'Leader of Men', thanks to the song's hook – kicks the record into gear nicely. It sounds like a distillation of everything Faith No More have ever done: the shouty verses, the huge chorus with it's epic, chiming pianos, it's all here and it sounds massive. Welcome back boys...
'Sunny Side Up'
When Faith No More's 1992 album Angel Dust topped a 2003 Kerrang! poll of the most influential albums of all time - ahead of records like Nirvana's Nevermind and Black Sabbath's debut - it raised a few eyebrows, but listening to 'Sunny Side Up' it's hard not to hear echoes of the bands they've influenced over the years, particularly Queens of the Stone Age and Tool. With its tricksy time signature and warping chorus melody, it's one of the album's standout moments for us, although it may be a bit of a grower.
Marilyn Manson is another artist who owes much to Faith No More's sound and one listen to this is enough to see what we mean. Patton's rhythmic, half-rapping half-whispering vocal style here is locked into the chugging, cyclical riff and lolloping drums that propel the verse of 'Separation Anxiety', before the chorus arrives and we're into the full-on Patton screech. Easily the heaviest moment on the album so far.
'Cone Of Shame'
With just a sparse, angular guitar riff and a light dusting of more military-style drums by way of accompaniment to Patton's half-narrated lyrics, the opening two minutes offer a false sense of security before 'Cone of Shame' fully fires up and Patton is screaming “I'd like to pull your wings off...” over a wall of raging guitars. This track wouldn't have been out of place on Angel Dust, something that's pretty sure to please the band's army of fans.
'Rise Of The Fall'
Of all the tracks on Sol Invictus, 'Rise of the Fall' is perhaps the one that best exhibits the eclectic range of influences on Faith No More's sound. Veering from a measured verse that has slight echoes of ska - even reggae - to an all-guns-blazing chorus that soars up out of nowhere, this is a great example of the band's unique place in the lexicon of metal and hard rock.
Even though the band's first single for almost two decades was released for Record Store Day's Black Friday event, a quick listen to Patton's caustic lyrics on this track are enough to indicate that he isn't altogether enamoured with the idea: “Twisting your arm and your eye / You will buy”. Paradoxically though this is, musically speaking, one of the most radio-friendly tracks on Sol Invictus, with a verse that could almost sound like Last Shadow Puppets, if Alex Turner was replaced by a malevolent Vincent Price. But then, the chorus, and we're very much back in Faith No More's stomping ground as Patton screams “BUY IT!”
The first single that emerged from the new album is nothing if not a statement of intent, with its lyrics about accountability (or lack thereof) seemingly aimed at those populating America's murky political landscape. It's a powerful opening salvo and it's another moment that sounds like distilled Faith No More, incorporating both the stuttering rock-rap style of The Real Thing and the big, bombastic choruses of the type found on Angel Dust and Album of the Year as if it's the most natural thing in the world.
In terms of sheer scale, this is probably the biggest moment on Sol Invictus and at over six minutes, it's also the longest. The twinkling pianos gradually build over the first couple of minutes until they're joined by guitars and a crescendo of drums leading into the song's hook: “We will rise from the killing floor / Like a matador”. It's a proper stadium-filling showstopper and the sparse breaks with just bass guitar and drums underpinning Patton's growling narration only serve to emphasise the huge, expansive wall of sound that builds in the choruses. It's epic.
'From The Dead'
Arriving at the final track, the relatively downtempo 'From The Dead', you begin to realise that Sol Invictus is a totally natural follow up to Album Of The Year and there's almost nothing to indicate that this is a band that hasn't released anything new since 1997. With its acoustic guitar-led closing salvo, the song is pretty self-referential and its closing lyric of “welcome home my friend” couldn't be more apt; listening to Faith No More's new album is like seeing an old friend for the first time in years and discovering, to your relief, that all the things that made you like them in the first place haven't changed. Welcome home indeed.